A few years ago, a friend of mine was keeping a very serious temptation in the dark. His friends and his pastor often asked questions about things that didn't line up, but instead of seeing those questions as evidence of God's mercy at work in his life, my friend continued to hide. He denied any wrongdoing and skirted the pointed questions about his past.
Then one day he succumbed to this temptation and was caught. It was the kind of deed that puts one in jail for a very long time. His family was devastated and his church was dismayed.
Afterward, I wrote him and asked him how we was processing these recent events. I'll never forget what he wrote back to me. In short, he said God had given him many opportunities to confess and repent, but he didn't see it as the mercy that it was. Instead, what he kept in the dark became the very thing that the Enemy used to destroy him. By nursing his secret sin and fearing the opinions of others more than the judgment of God, he destroyed all that was valuable to him -- including his witness for the Lord.
I've thought a lot about this in the ensuing years, especially in the context of small groups and accountability relationships. In certain circles, we can talk a lot about "safe" people and "safe" churches, places where self-righteous judgment isn't the most dominant relational characteristic. While it is important that we cultivate humility in our relationships (which is what being "safe" is all about), safety is not found in the reaction of others. Safety is found in the light of God. In God's mercy, the one thing we don't want to do -- drag our sin out of the darkness and confess it others -- is the very thing that will actually spare us. As it says in the first chapter of the gospel of John, life is found in the light:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14, emphasis mine)
Grace and truth co-exist in the One who is the true light, who came into the world on a divine rescue mission to give those who receive Him the right to become children of God. This is jaw-dropping truth! We want to hide our ugliness, our brokenness, our darkness. But when we willingly expose it to the Light, we are healed and restored.
This means confession and accountability are some of our primary weapons in the spiritual battles we face every day. This "life together in the light" should be the culture we create in our churches and in our families. We should be eager to help each other, not to judge one another. There is but one wholly righteous Judge and He tells us to meet Him at the point of our most severe criticism, the Cross, so that we can see clearly how great is our sin. The wonder is that at this place of severe criticism, we receive completely unmerited mercy! When we are truthful about our temptations and sins, we find grace to repent and change.
So how can we create this culture in our small group or church? It starts with each of us being willing to remove our own "fig leaf" mask and get real. Why does it seem so much harder to tell one another the truth that God already knows? For that matter, why does it seem so hard to tell one another the truth that most of us can already see in each other?! If I find it hard to confess my pride or anger, I'm being illogical. Nearly everyone around me is already aware of the overflow of my heart in those areas. But confession is the healing balm that brings me into the Light, where grace and truth meet me for full restoration!
(If you want to read further on this topic, I highly recommend Ed Welch's classic book, When People Are Big and God Is Small. It's not just for those who fear rejection. It's also for those who crave approval. Both of those motivations keep us in the dark, instead of the light.)